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Riccardo Riccò’s 20-month ban for doping ends on Thursday and the Italian climber will be back in action next week at the Coppi & Bartali stage race near his home in the Emilia Romagna region of central Italy.
Riccò had hoped to make his return at Milan-San Remo on Saturday but his Ceramica Flaminia team was not selected for the race a few days after Riccò's partner Vania Rossi tested positived for CERA. Riccò tested positive for the same blood-boosting drug during the 2008 Tour de France. The two have separated since Rossi’s positive, with Riccò spending most of his time training at altitude on Mount Etna in Sicily ready for his return.
Riccò has rarely shown sign of remorse for his doping but has publicly asked for forgiveness as his ban comes to an end.
“This is like a second debut for me and it’s a strange feeling. I’ve been a racer since I was a boy. I’ve made lots of season debuts but this one is the most important of my career,” Riccò said in a statement.
“I’ve worked really hard to be ready for this new opportunity. Cycling is my job and I won’t make the same mistakes of the past. I’d like to thank all the people who have shown their support. I want to thank my new team; I’ve go fantastic teammates, well-prepared directeur sportifs and excellent staff. Working with them has given me the peace of mind I needed.”
“I also want to thank the rivals I’ll face during the season: I made a mistake, I know, but I’m human, too and people make mistakes in life. I’m sorry. I want to apologise to all the cycling fans, cyclists, officials, journalists, everyone in the world of cycling. My errors are part of my past and from now on you’ll get to know a new Riccardo. I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for cycling, indeed it’s stronger than ever.”
“I just ask to be able to show how much I love this sport. Now I know that you can work honestly, trying to improve just by making sacrifices and thanks to hard work but most of all by not trying to take short cuts, which only lead to human and sporting failure. I’ve missed my world and I won’t let it go again.”
The Settimana Internazionale Coppi & Bartali begins on Tuesday March 23 with an 81.2km road race stage around Riccione and then a 15.6km team time trial in the afternoon.
Riccò won stages in the race in 2006 and 2007.